Turkey and Russia have been talking about setting up a secure zone in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region in a bid to shelter the displaced Syrians during the winter period, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday.
“We are in talks with the Russians on establishing a secure zone, where the people can spend the winter period,” he said.
Russia-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which have been on the offensive since April 2019, have stepped up their actions in the region in December.
Last week, Ankara and Moscow had announced a ceasefire in the province with conflicting starting dates and continuing airstrikes.
Akar pointed to the continuing attacks by the Syrian government forces despite the ceasefire.
On the same day, even Russian jets struck several rebel-held towns in southern Idlib, according to a Reuters report citing witnesses and rebel sources.
Turkey is concerned about a new wave of people being uprooted by the violence. According to the United Nations (UN), as many as 300,000 Syrians are believed to have been displaced in December alone due to the intensified offensive in the Idlib region, the last rebel-held swathe of territory.
International circles warn of renewed hostilities and hence the civilian displacement caused by the intensified Russian-Syrian fires.
The two, however, deny claims of indiscriminate bombardment on civilians and argue that they are fighting extremists who have been backed by Turkey.
Russia also argues that people could escape the attacks on rebel-held areas by crossing into territory under al-Assad control.
However, Akar said that was not an option for those people.
“Our Idlib friends who have become refugees don’t want to go to a [Syrian] government-controlled area,” Akar told reporters in Ankara.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was determined to make the ceasefire continue as they do not want 400,000 displaced people heading towards the Turkish border.
Akar said Turkey would not be abandoning an observation outpost that has been surrounded by Syrian forces and has instead had it strengthened.
Turkey holds a number of military outposts in the region in line with the 2018 Sochi agreement with Russia and Iran.
According to the de-escalation deal, Ankara is responsible for the removal of the jihadist militants and heavy arms from the agreed territory.
The trio – Russia, Iran, and Syria – accuse Turkey of not fulfilling its part in that regard.
On Monday, the heads of Turkish and Syrian intelligence service, Hakan Fidan and Ali Mamlouk, came together in a first officially-confirmed senior-level meeting in Moscow to discuss the ceasefire in Idlib.